This blog post was written by Sean Plaistowe and edited by Molly Brown and Giordana Mecagni for clarity.
Larry Katz is a music journalist who spent a long career working at Boston-area newspapers and magazines. While collecting information for upcoming articles, it became his practice to record the interviews with musicians and artists and put them aside in case they proved useful in the future. Over time, he amassed a collection of over 1,000 of these interviews, with artists as diverse as Eartha Kitt, Carly Simon, D.J. Fontana (the drummer for Elvis), Aerosmith, David Bowie, Ornette Coleman, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, James Brown, Miles Davis, and Elmore Leonard, as well as actors including Ted Danson, Mel Brooks, and Loretta Devine.
In 2020, Larry donated his collection to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC).
These interviews create a fascinating resource that provides insight into the music and arts industry across a wide variety of genres and eras. In them, you can catch some novel and intimate moments of music history. On one tape, you’ll hear Weird Al Yankovic discussing the difficulties of obtaining permission to parody Eminem’s music. Other tapes with artists like Nina Simone or Aimee Mann discuss musical influences or even the challenges and biases of navigating the recording industry. These interviews contain countless quiet moments as well, such as Prince discussing his preference for his home in Minneapolis over either coast, as well as his favorite movies of the year. The quiet clicking of teacups connecting with saucers while Eartha Kitt discusses her career provides a welcome feeling of connection and belonging that can feel rare and precious in researching these figures or music journalism more generally.
After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music in 1975, Larry Katz worked as a bass player before starting his journalism career at Boston’s Real Paper in 1980. In 1981, Larry worked as a freelance music writer at the Boston Globe and Boston Phoenix before being hired at the Boston Herald as a features writer, where he covered a wide variety of arts and lifestyle beats before settling into a role as a music critic and columnist. In 2006, he became the Herald’s Arts Editor and in 2008, he took over the features department, a role he had until 2011.
In 2013, Larry revisited his tape collection. Re-listening to the interviews sparked memories of the circumstances and contexts that these recordings were made in, information he felt compelled to share. He started a blog, The Katz Tapes, where he began to write reflections on artists and their interviews, often taking into account events that had transpired since the original conversations. Along with these reflections, Larry provided a transcription of the recorded interviews which he often interspersed with links to notable performances or songs related to the artists. Larry also donated the contents of this blog to the NUASC.
Making this collection usable and accessible to the public has involved many hands and collaborations, both internal and external. First, the tapes were digitized by George Blood LP, with funding generously provided by the Library of the Commonwealth program run by the Boston Public Library. Once the digitized tapes were safely back in the hands of the NUASC collections staff, the files were then handed to the Digital Production Services department to do the painstaking work of processing and cataloging the collection. They split audio files that contained multiple interviews, combined interviews that were on multiple tapes edited out white space, and created catalog records.
Making the blog content available was another challenge. Despite already being digital, moving content from Larry’s independent site to Northeastern hosting proved difficult. Initially, I was hopeful that we could use a handy WordPress feature that would allow for the whole cloth export of his blog. No such luck. Instead, I found some scripts which allowed me to scrape the many unique images which Larry had included with each post. The blog also linked to a lot of songs and performances hosted on YouTube, but unfortunately, due to the vagaries of time and copyright law, many of these videos were removed. When possible, I attempted to restore links to sanctioned videos. As an added feature, I created a playlist that includes many of the songs referenced in these posts.
Now that the collection has been cataloged and the blog has been ingested, we welcome anyone to search for their favorite artist, listen to their interview, read some of the reminiscences and insights form Larry about the artist and the interview, and listen to a Spotify playlist of some of the artists Larry interviews at thekatztapes.library.northeastern.edu.
In addition to the Larry Katz collection, researchers and enthusiasts of the arts in Boston may be interested in the Real Paper records and the Boston Phoenix records, both available at the NUASC.
There is nothing more fascinating than listening to musicians describe the process, passion, and dedication that goes into making music. This is something we learned first-hand while working with the Katz Tapes collection. The Katz Tapes were compiled by Larry Katz, a former music critic and columnist at the Boston Herald and a personable and thoughtful interviewer. Katz recorded hundreds of interviews he conducted with musicians, both internationally famous and local Boston-based artists. The majority of the collection focuses on music and musicians, but there are also interviews with authors, writers, comedians, and actors. Overall, the scope and variety within the collection is impressive. From Liza Minelli to Willie Nelson to Miles Davis: classical, jazz, rock, R&B, and pop artists are all represented.
When the Northeastern University Library received the Katz Tapes’ digitized files, we identified a subset with known description and file questions. Incomplete description made it hard to determine who was being interviewed. File issues to solve involved trimming content like white noise, silence, or music. Our job was to listen to the tapes in this subset to resolve these issues, and to confirm who was being interviewed so that researchers and members of the Northeastern community can better access these rich sources of music history.
We would love to share some of our favorite interviews with you:
Emily Allen’s Picks:
Hal Blaine—If you only listen to one Katz interview in the whole collection, this is the one I would recommend! Hal Blaine was a drummer and a session musician in the 1960s and ’70s. Sessions musicians are artists who are hired to play for specific recording sessions or live performances, and often end up playing with a lot of different artists and bands. Blaine was a prolific session musician in his own right and a member of The Wrecking Crew, a famous session musician group. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, Blaine played drums for 40 songs that reached number one. Blaine discussed several performers he worked with, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Monkees, The Beach Boys, and The Carpenters. His personal anecdotes and the way he speaks about these legendary artists is what makes this interview stand out from the rest. Talk about name dropping!
Allen Ginsberg—Allen Ginsberg, an American poet and writer who was famous for being a part of the Beat Generation, is someone I knew very little about. I never studied this period in American history, and while I have heard of Ginsberg, I did not know anything about him or his work. The way Ginsberg answers questions is insightful and his longtime partner Peter Orlovsky was present and interjects at various points during the interview. If you’re a fan of Ginsberg or interested in learning more about the Beat Generation or Jack Kerouac, give this interview a listen!
Henry Kaiser—I had never heard of Henry Kaiser prior to this project, but he is an American guitarist and composer. During this interview, Kaiser discusses the album The Sweet Sunny North, which he made in collaboration with David Lindley and a host of Norwegian musicians and instrumentalists. This album is meant to highlight various Norwegian musical traditions and styles. Previously, Kaiser and Lindley recorded a similar album, but with musicians from Madagascar. I think it is such an ingenious idea and album concept to immerse yourself in the music of a completely foreign country, promote new styles of music to American audiences, and introduce lesser-known and unknown musicians to a wider audience.
Yoko Ono—Everyone knows Yoko Ono as the woman who broke up The Beatles, but besides that dubious claim, I don’t think I’ve ever learned about or heard Ono speak. This was a group interview with several Boston-area reporters, including Katz, asking Ono questions. The interview was conducted because a touring exhibition of artwork created by John Lennon and Ono was making a stop in Boston. Highlights of the interview include her in-depth discussion of Lennon and the surprising admission that Boston has a special place in her heart.
George Winston—George Winston is also a musician I had never heard of, but he is an American pianist with a massive discography. The interview was unexpected because Winston discusses his dislike of the piano, a surprising admission for a professional pianist! When Katz asks if he ever practices or plays piano just to play, Winston states that he only practices or plays (outside of scheduled performances) when he’s touring! He never listens to piano music at home and easily tires of listening to classical piano music. Instead, Winston prefers the guitar and enjoys listening to guitar and harp music in his spare time.
Anna Ryerson’s Picks:
Lindsey Buckingham—Lindsey Buckingham talks to Katz shortly after the release of Fleetwood Mac’s album Tango in the Night, which Buckingham compares favorably to their previous album Mirage, calling it a more experimental album. He shares how he came to work more on the production side of the group’s records. Interestingly, Buckingham took a decade-long hiatus from Fleetwood Mac within a year of this interview. Although he shares his desire to work on more solo material, he does not hint that he might be leaving the group any time soon.
Jerry Butler—Jerry Butler was originally a musician and singer-songwriter, but Katz interviews him later in his career when serves as chairman of the board of directors of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, so this interview gives more insight into the practical side of the music industry. Butler talks about his organization’s decision to move their annual event from Los Angeles (where it took place at the same time as the Grammys) to New York, in order to make more money to help pay the medical bills and other necessities of older musicians without a safety net. Butler also talks about the importance of proper recognition in situations where newer musicians are borrowing from and taking inspiration from older ones, and how excited he is to be able to honor songwriter Clyde Otis, who contributed to the songs of so many other artists.
Jim Carroll—An author and poet as well as a musician, Jim Carroll was best known for writing the memoir Basketball Diaries, which became a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. When Katz interviews him, he does talk about the music industry and his career as a punk musician but focuses more on his experiences in the poetry scene and on his own writing. Carroll, who played basketball at a high level in high school, mentions his love of the sport in both Basketball Diaries and his second memoir Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973. However, he tells Katz that he does not regret focusing more on poetry than on basketball as a young adult, particularly considering the longevity of his work in poetry and in writing in general. Thirty-seven years old at the time of this interview, he considers himself “still a young writer” but feels he would “be a very old basketball player.”
James Carter—Katz interviewed James Carter shortly after the filming of the 1996 movie Kansas City, where he worked with actor and musician Harry Belafonte to pay tribute to great Kansas City jazz musicians of the 1930s. Carter played the famous saxophonist Ben Webster. Carter also talks about his desire to pay tribute to other jazz artists, including some who had never been recorded before, and talks about his recent album, Conversin’ with the Elders, which showcases a long continuum of great jazz musicians.
Ornette Coleman—A saxophonist, violinist, and trumpeter, Ornette Coleman was best known for his jazz compositions and performances, but when interviewed by Katz, alongside his friend Randy Harrison, he shares a fascinating story about an experience with classical music. When Coleman hoped to perform in England, he was told by the British government that he first needed to write a piece of classical music and qualify as a concert artist. He ended up writing a piece of music called “Forms and Sounds” for himself and a woodwind quintet. He also talks to Katz about how he taught himself how to play the violin!
We hope that these remarkable examples give you some idea of the value of recorded interviews in the music world. It’s particularly interesting to hear the voices and intonations of these musicians, people whose lives were built on sound, and sometimes the interface between sound and the spoken (or sung) word. In addition, through these interviews, you can learn a great deal about the history and the making of music—because they are contemporaneous recordings, they capture the creative process as it occurs.
The best part of working with any kind of archival material is that opportunity for discovery, and the surprises that you will encounter!
The Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections is fortunate to have the records of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC), founded in 1982. BGMC is a 200-voice community ensemble that sings popular and classical music and works to “inspire change, build community, and celebrate difference.”
Some chorus recordings are already available in Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service (DRS) but there are many more in the Archives that haven’t been digitized yet. Recently, members of BGMC working on a documentary requested the digitization of recordings on 1/4″ reel-to-reel tape and Digital Audio Tape (DAT) from the 1980s and 1990s. These recordings included holiday performances, Pride concerts, and a collaboration with the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus.
We’re always happy to help make the collections accessible, but the digitization of older audiovisual formats presents challenges. DAT cassettes were released in 1987 and used throughout the 1990s. They encode digital information onto magnetic media and allow for high quality recordings. However, Sony stopped producing DAT cassette decks in 2005 and few people know how to maintain the equipment needed to digitize them. In addition, use of an out-of-repair machine might damage the tape. You can read more about the preservation issues with DAT in archival collections here and here. Luckily, we were able to work with National Boston to digitize these DATs with no issues.
The reel-to-reel or open reel format using magnetic tapes was popular from the 1940s through the 1980s. We also sent our reel-to-reel tapes to National Boston but due to the age and condition of the materials, an extra step was required. Many of the tapes had sticky shed syndrome. This preservation issue is common and affects magnetic media. The tape has three layers: the magnetic portion which contains the information; the base layer; and the binding agent. Sticky shed syndrome causes the binder to degrade, leading the tape to shed bits of itself while being played. Since this causes irreversible loss of information, tapes with sticky shed should be baked before playback. This involves putting them in an oven at a low heat to rebind the layers. You can read more about baking tapes at the Library of Congress here.
Luckily, these gorgeous vocal performances are now preserved in our repository and available here. Thanks to my colleagues in the Archives, especially Molly Brown, and to my colleagues in Digital Metadata, especially Anna Ryerson, for their work coordinating the request and cataloging the recordings.
Introduction Part of the digitization process includes the creation of metadata for each record so that people can find an individual item with the sea of documents. Metadata is the identifying information of a record, such as its title, author, creation date, and other components.
Recently, archivists have placed greater emphasis on the subject heading aspect of cataloging records.1 Archivists now recognize that the creation of subjects and descriptions as access points to a record is an inherently biased activity that can influence how one approaches and perceives the record itself and the topics it contains. While these access points are extremely helpful in improving search results, these pathways are created by archivists, i.e. people. Since archivists create metadata, the data reflects our perspectives, thereby making it imperative that we be mindfully aware of our unconscious biases. We must do the necessary self-evaluative work about ourselves, the power dynamics in which we function, and the multifarious impacts of our decisions on various groups.
Records are created within certain settings for certain purposes—whether political or social—and an archivist inserts the meta-narrative layer of collecting and making accessible those records. There is power in that process and traditionally the process has privileged dominant social systems, which then reinforces social inequities. The myth of neutrality in subject cataloging has led to subject headings that can reinforce biases, stereotypes, and offensive representations, as well as misrepresent and alienate marginalized communities. For instance, a reclassification project at GBH recognized the negative false equivalence of police only interacting with criminals in their legacy subject term “Law Enforcement & Crimes,” which they have changed to “Legal System.”2
Recently, many archivists have risen to the challenge of acknowledging the persistency of power dynamics and are actively seeking to infuse their metadata creation with inclusion, diversity, and social justice practices. I myself have recently undertaken the ethical reasoning behind the use of certain subject headings to achieve descriptions that not only increase searchability and accuracy but also are respectful and empowering to subjects previously ignored. It is my hope that by developing cultural competency, the records will be more accessible to the communities reflected in their content, which may be one small step towards actively dismantling oppressive systems.
The Collection and Daniela Saunders As I digitized the Freedom House Inc. Records, I stumbled upon an eye-opening folder about the Police-Community Relations Committee. The records from this folder of items from 1960 to 1966 document a growing awareness in Roxbury of police-community relation issues. At the time, there were community memories of problems and instances a decade prior. Back in 1952, the murder of Rabbi Zuber sparked meetings calling for community action. However, the initial uproar dwindled and while close relations and neighbors continued to fight for change, it was a small endeavor.
Some larger efforts did persist, including a Police-Community Relations Institute Conference held in 1960 that connected with religious organizations to discuss the relations between mass media, social work agencies, the judicial court system, civil rights, legislation, and the police. However, the improvements called for in the decade of discussions did not become sweeping real-world improvements. As a result, over the course of a year between the summers of 1962 and 1963, there were a number of stranglings of women in the greater Boston area.3
On January 5, 1963, 16-year-old Daniela Saunders was murdered in an alleyway between Warren Street and Elm Hill Park, just a few blocks from her home. The next day, 500 members of her community met with Otto P. Snowden and Freedom House to discuss what underlying social problems led to the tragedy. Initiated by a small group of mothers voicing the need to prevent such violence, the meeting expanded to the 500-person turnout. Many individuals voiced their perspectives on the issue:
Dewey Duckett outlined the general disinterest of the Boston Police Department Division 9 towards the community it was supposed to protect. He talked about how “the local police had clearly evidenced an incapacity to understand or respect either the local citizens themselves or their simple desire for minimal adequate protection.”4
Attorney Benjamin Johnson called for the creation of a 100-person auxiliary police of community members.
Mrs. Leona Tynes cited the practical issue of poor lighting facilities.
Mrs. Oswald Jordan recalled the aftermath of Rabbi Zuber’s murder and described the emotional toll of these types of meetings over the last decade since they had not led to any actual change.
At the end of the meeting, the goal was set to create a committee to meet with city officials, namely Commissioner Edmund L. McNamara, Captain Paul Sullivan, and Sergeant Kelly of Division 9. The other four main suggestions were to add foot patrolmen; ensure that police answered complaints with courtesy instead of their current lack of sensitivity; increase the effort to improve problem areas; and fire police that demonstrated bias towards the black community.
Another meeting held January 8, 1962, at the Jeremiah E. Burke School further expanded the four main issues. About 1,500 citizens gathered to demand change. Kenneth Guscott, representing the NAACP, called for a Villante Committee similar to what the Peace Corps created in Harlem. Police Commissioner McNamara personally attended this meeting, although he was met with objections when he attempted to downplay his former neglect by referring to his personal connection with a black member of the police force.
The various efforts aimed to “promote a better understanding between the protected and the protector.”5 The end goal was a positive coordinated action program formulated and carried out by neighborhood associations in affiliation with the local police. Along with Mayor John F. Collins and Commissioner McNamara’s immediate pledges to increase training in criminal investigation and compulsory attendance of courses at Northwest University and the FBI National Academy, the events led to long-term communication between the Roxbury community, city officials, and the police. The Freedom House Inc. Records reflect and display these sustained efforts.
Daniela Saunders’ Impact The events of Daniela Saunders’ murder and the aftermath from Roxbury’s community response are integral components to the larger historic narrative of the police-community relations documented in the Freedom House Inc. Records. Her story may be limited to a folder in this vast collection but her impact disseminates through many boxes. So many activities were initiated by her tragic demise.
However, most metadata elements do not provide space for Daniela. She wasn’t the author or creator of the records, she was not included in the title of the records, and her name was often eliminated in the documents themselves. Within the records of Folder 1015, Daniela was more of a ghost, a whisper, trickled throughout the newspaper articles, letters, meeting minutes, and reports. She may have been the impetus for change, but she didn’t have agency in these metadata components.
Additionally, in the larger historic narrative, Daniela has been forgotten. She is currently not listed as one of the Boston Strangler’s 13 victims despite the connection to the “Phantom Strangler” made in 1963.6
When making the metadata for items in Folder 1015, I wanted to allow Daniela to regain her own agency in being remembered. The power of remembering is enormous—it becomes public memory and informs current events. Therefore, archival records provide an opportunity to bear witness to an event when it has been lost to time. I knew I needed a way to provide a pathway to Daniela and link her to these records. I produced these conditions by making Daniela a Name Subject Heading, a practice that we are not often implementing in the Freedom House Inc. digitization project. Due to the large scope of the collection and the logistical issues of maintaining authorized subject headings over 83 containers, Name Subject Headings for individuals are a rare occurrence.
However, with the addition of this metadata component, Daniela’s story becomes accessible to the public. She is no longer a passive victim, marginalized and obscured, but is now an active agent at the forefront of police-community relations in 1963 Roxbury. People can now find the records related to Daniela and they can situate her contribution within the larger Freedom House and Roxbury narratives.
Additionally, the records can give the public a resource for holding historical agents accountable. The 1960s were fraught with many issues between communities of color and the police nationwide. The events of 1963 in Roxbury become a part of that larger context.
Finally, by recognizing Daniela and the events of 1963, I hope that the records and their metadata have an enduring impact on our current society. Police brutality, racism, abuse, systematic oppression, and unnecessary force are all topics that we see in the news every day. Past calls for better training and systematic changes to the police force are similar to present-day news stories. We are constantly exposed to the reality of this violence and our nation collectively feels an emotional toll possibly similar to the one described by Mrs. Oswald Jordan in January 1963. Maybe these historic records can help inform our present discourse. By knowing what happened in the past, maybe we can make more informed decisions, and ultimately, be the change we strive to see.
1A non-comprehensive list of recent literature includes, Jillian Ewalt, “Toward Inclusive Description: Reparations through Community-Driven Metadata,” NEA Newsletter 46, no. 2 (April 2019): 4-7; Rosale de Mattos, “The Representation of Archival Information in Controlled Vocabularies: The Context of the Archival Institutions in Rio de Janeiro,” Knowledge Organization 47, no. 7 (2019): 548-557; Samuel J. Edge, “A Subject “Queer”-y: A Literature Review on Subject Access to LGBTIQ Materials,” Serials Librarian 75, no. 1-4 (Jul-Dec 2018): 81-90; Gracen Brilmyer, “Archival assemblages: applying disability studies’ political/relational model to archival description,” Archival Science 18, no. 2 (Jun 2018): 95-118. 2Miranda Villesvik and Raananah Sarid-Segal, “Making Metadata Inclusive to Marginalized Voices” (presentation, Archives for a Changing World, NEA Spring Conference, Virtual, March 27, 2021). 3The Boston Strangler continued to murder young women in the Boston area until 1964. For more information, see Ronald Lettieri, “Boston Strangler.” Salem Press Encyclopedia (2019); Jess Bidgood, “50 Years Later, a Break in a Boston Strangler Case,” New York Times, July 11, 2013; Paul Hoblin, Boston Strangler (Unsolved Mysteries). Abdo Publishing, 2012; Susan Kelly, The Boston Stranglers: The Public Conviction of Albert DeSalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group, 1995. 4“Report from special community meeting about police issues, Daniela Saunders and Rabbi Zuber murders, and race relations held January 6, 1096.” January 6, 1963. Freedom House Inc. Records (M16). Northeastern University Library. Archives and Special Collections Department. Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. Box 30, Folder 1015. 5“Outline on various phases of police activities.” April 28, 1964. UASC identifier: M16_B030_F1015_005. Freedom House Inc. Series 3: Programs. Sub-Series B: Urban Renewal. Neighborhood Associations. Police-Community Relations Committee, 1960-1966. 6Jack Thomas, “Victims of the Boston Strangler,” The Boston Globe, July 11, 2013. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/07/11/victims-boston-strangler/CwbsZlSNcfwmhSetpqNlhL/story.html